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A Day Out for the Boys- Old Warden and other things, part 3

This week’s guest post is from my cousin Sean Mendis.

The story will unfold in three parts- here is the final part.

Anyway, the Bedfordshire countryside looked far better from over the dope and linen covered half wing of this vintage aeroplane and I imagined myself flying to Paris where a champagne and caviar dinner by the banks of the Seine awaited me. After all, this is the only way to fly to France, what a thrilling prospect. After twenty minutes, the familiar grass strip of Old Warden came into view as the pilot set a landing course.  At about 800 feet or so he yanked up the handbrake lever to full, releasing the almost redundant flaps.  He throttled back and the engine note receded to barely a whisper and then we glided over the perimeter hedge and touched down smoothly on the all grass aerodrome that was Old warden.

The display was good, and we were expecting to see the ‘Edwardians’ take to the air. This was a name given to vintage aircraft up to the end of the WW1.  The collection included a Bleriot, and a Blackburn monoplane amongst several others.  These had 3 cylinder Anzani engines whose horsepower was about as much as the HP49 that we’d just started. Consequently, they were only risked in fair weather conditions, and then only in a short hop up and down the runway. It might be said that the mere flapping of a butterfly may cause grave concern for the pilot and so we all held our breath, and other less pleasing eructations, lest we unseated the occupant. Today the windsock was mostly horizontal and regrettably these aeroplanes did not take part. However, we did have the early warbirds, including the “Brisfit” which always impressed.  The ‘balloon run’ and the ‘limbo dance’ which followed also provided some entertainment, owing to the potential for low level mishap; nothing too dangerous or massively life threatening I would hasten to add, but perhaps just the odd busted propeller and a shattered collarbone – a thoroughly gentlemanly injury to relay to the grandchildren at a later time.

After the Edwardians we settled down on the grass for half time corned beef sandwiches, cherry beer and a splendid bottle of Rioja.  This could have been something out of an Enid Blyton novel – ‘Three go mad at Biggleswade’ perhaps?  The Rioja proved the perfect accompaniment to the throbbing beat of a meaty Merlin as a Spitfire and Sea Hurricane tore up the strip.

The Sabre jet display was the last of the delights and we decided to head homewards soon after. The journey back was uneventful save for one dramatic lapse in concentration that Sean made at the wheel of the 730.  As if drawn by magnetic attraction he let the car drift onto the oncoming lane at the very moment a Ford Fiesta was coming the other way.  The Fiesta motorist took frantic avoiding action causing his car to skid headlong towards a pair of hapless motorcyclists who were parked by the side of the road for a freebie air show.  The accompanying screeching of rubber and dust kicked up by the tyres must have given them a very nasty brown trouser moment.  Their sphincters wouldn’t even have had time to pucker up.  These were the kind of skid marks they hadn’t anticipated!  The rest of the trip went peacefully enough though.

Related posts: A Day Out for the Boys- Old Warden and other things, Part 2A Day Out for the Boys- Old Warden and other things, Part 1

A Day Out for the Boys- Old Warden and other things, Part 2

This week’s guest post is from my cousin Sean Mendis.

The story will unfold in three parts- here is the second part.

Our first stop was the RFC camp and field dressing station where everyone had dressed up in their army fatigues, and hobnail boots just for the weekend. Fearsome infantry weapons were on display causing my fevered imagination to go into overdrive. “Sir! Your helmet and entrenching tool are enormous!” “Never mind your ankle puttees Graves, just feel the width of my bayonet.”  “Would you like a Satsuma sir, before I drop down and give you twenty?”

Then there was the re-enactment of a WW1 dogfight and the exchange between an RFC pilot and his rear gunner.

“Did you get the Kraut?

“Yes saar”.

“Did you see him smoke”?

“Yes saar, and some flames too”.

“Good show Douglas, very well done, so we’ve bagged a flamer after all”!

Further up the field, pleasure flights in vintage aircraft were on offer. This was an opportunity not to be missed and very soon we were shoe-horned on board the tiny cabin of a De Haviland Dragon Rapide biplane. The pilot was a chunky untidy chap who wore an eight o’clock shadow.  I felt he needed a touch of the cold steel and the badger.  He fired up the Dragon Rapide’s ancient Gypsy Major engines, which popped and crackled, before bursting into life and then settling into a heavy, steady thrum.  The whole airframe shuddered in sympathy and I hoped like hell that the glue holding the tiny two by one cross members making up most of the cabin structure would hold.  The pilot had to wait for a landing Tiger Moth before he had the all clear.  I had a good vantage point just behind and to the right of the pilot.  He gently eased the throttle forward and the elevators back.  It took a while for the tail to lift and soon the aircraft was on rotation point waiting for a bump or a slight gust to make the step from ground to air.  At this point the pilot gave quite a hefty tug on the control yoke and we eased upward.  It felt and looked like he was driving an old Route Master bus.  After a gentle climb out towards the South, the pilot levelled out at about 2000 feet and throttled back to 1900RPM.  It must have been the cruising speed and I could now see the silvery shadow of the whirring props.  My seat was directly in line with them and I found this slightly unsettling. It was probably the memory of a detached propeller slicing through the cabin, in the re-make of ‘The flight of the Phoenix’, that came to mind.  I could see the headlines: Degenerate civil servant dies in a freak prop accident.

Stay tuned next week for part three…

Related posts: A Day Out for the Boys- Old Warden and other things